The Biopolis is a product of a national race to attract the industry.

KANNAPOLIS (North Carolina) - Three buildings in an American blue-collar town north-east of Charlotte, one topped by a giant dome, form the beginnings of what has been nicknamed the Biopolis, a research campus dedicated to biotechnology.

At a cost of US$500 million ($724 million) and counting, the Biopolis, officially called the North Carolina Research Campus, is a product of a national race to attract the biotechnology industry, a current grail of economic development.

Cities like Shreveport, Louisiana, and Huntsville, Alabama, are also gambling millions in taxpayer dollars on if-we-build-it-they-will-come research parks and wet laboratories, which hold the promise of low-pollution workplaces and high salaries.

The state of Florida and Palm Beach County used US$510 million as bait for a research institute that will employ 545 people. New York City has invested more than US$45 million in bioscience infrastructure, and Kentucky matches federal research grants dollar for dollar.

But skeptics cite two major problems with the race for biotech: First, the industry is highly concentrated in established epicentres such as Boston and San Francisco, which offer not just scientific talent but also executives who know how to steer drugs through the arduous approval process.

Second, biotech is a relatively tiny industry with a lengthy product-development process, and even in its largest clusters offers only a fraction of the jobs of traditional manufacturing.

To build a viable biotech cluster, some areas have expanded the traditional definition of the industry beyond genetics to biofuels, agriculture, medical devices - even bioterrorism research.

A good strategy capitalises on a city's existing strength, said Mr Patrick Kelly, the vice-president of state government relations for the Biotechnology Industry Organisation.

In Kannapolis, the focus is on food and nutrition, not because of any expertise, but because of Mr David Murdock, the health-obsessed billionaire who first envisioned the


Some critics say the Biopolis is largely a real estate venture that can only increase the value of hundreds of additional acres Mr Murdock owns in the area.

From TODAY, World – Friday, 12-Jun-2009

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